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DAY TO DAY. In a pleasant house. In the quiet and peaceful countryside. The meditations of the solitary The Lost Rene Descartes. Continued. We find Descartes composing the beginning of the fifth meditation sitting at his writing table in the early afternoon having awakened only a short while ago. He is now refreshed and eager to wrap up this tense tightly argued and dangerous philosophic statement. He is now ready to push the argument through to its rational completion with all its parts in their rush in order. When you will of finished he will have produced a philosophy that would compel acceptance from any rational mind. What has he proved by this time. At the beginning of the fifth meditation he has proved that I exist as a thinking thing and that God exists as a perfect substance. But there remains only the last to major proof that physical substances exist independently of my mind. The physical things
exist in a physical universe externally to me who am a thinking thing. And so at the beginning of the fifth meditation Descartes says my chief Thomas is to rid myself of all those dots with which I have been encumbered for these past few days and to see if anything certain can be known about material things. But the fifth meditation is spent not only proof of physical things but is spent on the ontological proof of God. Why is that. They call it must of thought that now that he had an opportunity to offer a third proof of God he'd better do that so that his obedience to the church would have been amply demonstrated. You feel safe then. By the time of the sixth and last meditation to get on with the proof that material things exist
and that their nature is exactly as the new science describes it. Do material things exist that got us. Can I know this with certainty and what their properties are. But my knowledge of physical things has usually come to me through my senses. I refer my feelings to my own body and I perceive other human bodies and physical things as well. But although I once believed my senses to be telling me the truth about physical things I came to see reasons for delving the census as Descartes on the basis of what I know now what should I believe of all the things that my senses tell me all my life my senses told me that I have a head hands feet and all the other parts of the body and that contact with other bodies sometimes gave me pleasure and sometimes pain. I noted that physical objects have sizes and shapes and moods and that they are hot or soft warm or cold to my touch. I have also felt hunger and thirst and other appetites and I have felt joy and
sadness and I have observed by my senses lights color sounds tastes and smells. And all of these helped me to see the sky the earth and the sea. It was therefore natural for me to believe that these ideas were due to objects outside me and that these objects were similar to the ideas which they caused in me. Later however says Descartes the various experiences of mine ruined all my faith in the senses. I found the judgments based upon the senses based upon the sense of sight were erroneous. For example huge statues seen from a distance looked tiny. And asked all the internal sense this is deceptive too. I have heard the people he says with amputated limbs sometimes feel sensations in them. So inner sense is as untrustworthy as outer sense. Notice that Descartes examples of the untrustworthiness of the senses are weak and strained. We have here a descant the rationalist
trying to refute trying to knock down empiricism which claims that the senses are our best source of knowledge. What shall I now believe he asks are my ideas caused by objects outside me which are similar to them. Here Descartes begins to move toward the reversal of doubt toward a reconstruction after the destruction. I now know as certainties he says that I exist as a thinking thing and that God exists as a perfect being. But I also know that nothing exists without a cause. What then is the cause of my idea of bodies of my own body others bodies and the physical world. Here we say Descartes repeating the same kind of argument he used in the in the second meditation to offer his first proof of the existence of God. There he began from the koto. From my knowledge of myself as a thinking thing and from my idea of
God and asking what could be the cause of my idea of God. Now Descartes what could be the cause of my idea of a physical body. And he will go through the same proof by a process of elimination. Could be the cause of my physical bodies but I cannot be the cause. The size and shape of my body the cause of the town of the people the song the fields the cows grazing in the fields. All these ideas of bodies were passively received by me. I cannot produce them. They do not depend on my willing them. In fact these ideas that I have of bodies of physical things often occur contrary to my will. When I am in a small boat far out at sea I cannot control my perception of the gathering storm clouds that threaten my boat. But there is another reason that I cannot be the cause of my ideas of physical things. I am I thinking substance and I know that the effect must be like the cause
because of the idea of physical substance must be itself a physical substance. And so by the familiar process of elimination He now asks whether God could be the cause of my idea of physical substance. But then he would be deceiving me in allowing me to have a strong inclination to believe that the cause of these ideas is in physical things. Therefore we must conclude that physical things material bodies exist as the causes of our idea of them. And so the last of the three components of reality myself God and nature has been proved to exist. But this does not mean says Descartes hastily that material bodies exist exactly as our senses show them to be. It is he says only my clear and distinct idea of physical things that can tell me what their true nature is. But what is a physical substance. Do I have a clear and distinct
idea of cold body of matter of physical substance. This is the right moment as you perfectly well knew in which to pick up from the second meditation. His analysis of the piece of wax. This was de cartes first consideration of material substance in the meditations that was in meditation too. He brings it in immediately after his successful proof of the koto of my own existence as a thinking substance. He says I am a thinking thing truly existent. What sort of thing is that he asks. I have already given the answer to that. A thinking thing. I am not a bad assemblage of limbs which is called the human body. But he said let me indulge my mind which cannot help thinking that it knows bodies perceive by the senses better than it knows my existence as a thinking thing which is known to me by reason. Let me indulge my mind in its thinking about body so that later at the right moment the rings may be drawn
in the mind so that to control the telling but tightening the reins on our thinking that we know a body by the senses is now now in the sixth meditation. Let us speak he says not of bodies in general because such talk is confusing. What is talk about a particularly body. Let us take this piece of wax. Not too long ago it was in the beehive. It is not yet lost the sweetness of the honey You still has something of the scent of the flowers from which the bees made it its color shape and size are observable to sites. It is hard and cold to the touch. If you strike it it will give off an audible sound. In these few lines Descartes has accounted for all of the senses as they respond to the wax. But now he brings a flame to the wax gone immediately is the scent of honey the smell of the flowers the color the shape is changed. The size increases it
liquefies it becomes hot where it had been cold. If you strike it there is no sun. Is it the same piece of wax. Everyone would say yes but all its properties perceived by the senses changed. What property remains in virtue of which one pays say truly. It is the same piece of wax. The real properties of anything Descartes argues those that remain constant throughout chains the property that remains in the wax is something that is extended and changeable being extended in space and capable of change. These are the only true characteristics of the wax or of any material body at all. And these properties unknown by reason by the intellect by my rational reflection about physical things and not by the senses. Here we see Descartes the rationalist arguing that reason is the only method for reaching true and certain knowledge of myself of God a physical nature.
And so Descartes has concluded that nothing belongs to physical things but extension and space. Length breadth and depth in various sizes and shapes and in motion. Physical objects then have only the properties or qualities of spatial extension. The qualities of saunas shape and the capacity of motion and these are the only qualities or properties which physical things truly have. The only object of qualities which physical nature has. What then does Descartes have to say about all the qualities those that did not remain when the max wax melted the qualities of color touch taste smell and sound. Do these qualities not belong to physical things. All the color and the sweet smell of the wax objective qualities are not. Do they exist as the qualities of physical substances or not. What is Descartes prepared to say about the colors and sounds and smells and tastes of the piece of wax or about the colors sounds tastes of the physical world. They come out
as prepared to say only what the physicist Galileo had said that the only objectively real qualities of physical objects are the qualities of being extended in space with some Saudis and shape and being capable of motion. These are the qualities which reason knows by a clear and distinct idea to constitute the true nature of physical things. Moreover these are the qualities which a physical object must have in order to be a physical object. The piece of wax could lose its softness lose its smell of honey its sweetness of taste and still be a physical thing. Why. Because it still has spacial extension it still has length of breadth and depth. In other words physical things need not have colors or tastes or odors in order to exist. But in order to reach physical things at all they must have size and shape. What then is the case against colors taste sounds as objective real qualities that belong to physical
substances. One in the first place colors tastes and smells on not necessary qualities of physical things like the piece of wax. Whereas having spatial extension having some song and shape is necessary for the piece of wax to exist at all as a physical thing. Colors taste smells are not qualities which a physical thing must have. Secondly we have a clear and distinct idea of spatial extension as the necessary essential quality of the piece of wax. But we have no clear and distinct idea of the color of the wax. As long as sensually or necessarily to the piece of wax. In fact as Descartes says in the sixth meditation what we apprehend by the senses. Colors tastes and sounds are not qualities of physical objects at all but rather they are qualities which exist only in us. They are caused by external objects would stimulate our sense organs
the stimulation of the eyes ears nose throat and skin has the effect of our seeing colors hearing sounds and experiencing odors tastes and tactile sensations like hot and cold hard and soft rough and smooth. These qualities are not in physical objects. They are not real attributes of the physical world. They are merely in us the result of the impact of physical objects upon our bodily sense organs. We have already seen that Descartes himself classified such ideas as adventitious ideas ideas which come to us from things outside us in the world. By contrast the idea of spatial extension is a clear and distinct self evident idea. The essential necessary quality of physical things. Descartes is classified as an innate idea an idea which is born with every human being and is known by all reason not by all bodily sensations the qualities of sound taste
which Descartes calls adventitious and says are in us and not in the physical object. These were named secondary qualities by the empiricists of Great Britain before the seventeenth century ended. And this is what they have been called ever since and the name of primary qualities was given to those qualities which Descartes included in his clear and distinct idea of the qualities necessary to a physical thing size shape and the capacity of motion. But today caught primary qualities of physical things were known by a clear and distinct rational idea to the empiricists both primary and secondary qualities are known solely by the senses. But the very same theory of physical substance which led Descartes into difficulties later with the church was of great advantage to the new science by denying secondary qualities and insisting that the only qualities of physical objects
all the spatial qualities of size and shape and the capacity of motion. Descartes had limited the properties of matter to those which the scientists could measure quantify and deal with by mathematics by claiming that matter is nothing but spatial extension knowable by the absolutely true laws of geometry and the Tenex Descartes had laid the foundations for contemporary mathematical physics. But if physical things are only sizes and shapes in space analyzed by geometry which is the science of space than physical things are only static geometric figures. How can Descartes account for the motion of physical things. What is the source of motion. The clear and distinct idea of spatial extension does not include the idea of motion when its motion from gaudium selves as Descartes God causes motion to exist in the world. God is the first cause of motion in the physical
universe and God provided a fixed and constant amount of motion or energy. But after God created the world and set it in motion according to the laws of geometry and mechanics. God does not interfere with the mechanical clockwork of the universe. God's noninvolvement with the world in the philosophy of Descartes was very upsetting to the French mathematician and philosopher Pascal Pascal was born a generation later than Descartes and he was a devout and profoundly religious Catholic. Pascal writes and these are his words. I cannot forgive Descartes. He would have liked in the whole of his philosophy to be able to bypass God. But he could not help making him give a shove to set the world in motion. After that Descartes has nothing further to do with
God. Descartes theory of the physical universe is called mechanism. Mechanism is the theory that all of nature can be explained by the mechanical motion of geometrical matter in the carts mechanistic view of the world. The world is infinite in extension with the bodies of all shapes and sizes continually moving and changing all motion of bodies is due to mechanical impact like the mechanical workings in a clock like the impact of steel balls upon one another. The infinite universe is through and through mechanical from the movement of the planets in their orbits around the sun which is the vast celestial clockwork of the planets which Galileo had described to all inorganic those ickle things. These two mechanical clock works. This is what the physical universe is for Descartes. Bodies of various geometrical
sizes and shapes colorless soundless without smell taste or texture in purposeless mechanical motion on impact like the steel balls or like the parts of a clock. And so for Descartes all living things all living organisms are clockwork extended in space and moving on impact with other bodies. Descartes is famous for his view that animals are automata mechanically responsive to the stimulus of other bodies. Descartes was what moderns would call a behaviorist. With regard to animals he do knowing that animals have reason intelligence or mind or any inner feelings or mental states. Such feelings as they have according to Descartes arise only from the mechanical motions of their bodies.
Descartes reduced animals to being nothing but matter in motion. Descartes claimed that if machines were constructed to look like animals like this to a dog we could not tell them apart from animals. The fact that animals cannot use language to express themselves says Descartes does not show merely that the groups have less reason than man but that they have none at all. So as Descartes since it is clear that very little is required in order to be able to talk. And although it is true that animals are sometimes very skillful as for example beavers are skillful in building dams this is Descartes. Shows rather that they have no reason at all. It is nature which acts in them according to the disposition of their organs. Just as a clock which is only composed of wheels and weights is able to tell
the hours and measure the time. More correctly than we can do with all our wisdom in opposition to Descartes Stanz the theory of evolution which holds that there is in fact a continuity of evolution and a common origin of all living species. Whereas Descartes sees rationality thinking as completely separating humans from animals. The theory of evolution shows that there is no shop division. There are no shop separations but a continuous gradation of capacities and functions from the lowest living organisms. For example the amoeba to the organisms of the that are organic and to the human species. These scholastic philosophers and Catholic theologians also argue that there is a continuity of all living species and that animals
do indeed have souls. But of a lesser nature than the soul of humans. But for they cause whatever is not Russian or thinking spiritual and moral substance is nothing but matter in motion without any intelligence or moral or spiritual qualities. But today scientific experiments have shown that one of Descartes automata the porpoise is more than being mere matter in motion. In fact the porpoise is a creature of Super of intelligence capable of subtle communication with humans and even having a sense of humor. There is also a profound opposition today to Descartes from many people who love and honor animals for the very moral qualities which Descartes denies they have for their moral qualities of innocence and lack of hypocrisy. While these same people condemned humans for their hypocrisy and lack of innocence. As for human beings as thinking things according to CARR We are not
extended in space. We are rational moral and spiritual beings. But all bodies are extended in space and they are a clockwork as mechanical as the bodies of animals. The beating of the heart digestion respiration circulation of the blood. All these are mechanical. Descartes makes one exception and that is for any human activity that depends upon our thinking such as any deliberate act that we do. And Descartes prefigures our modern day of automation and thinking machines when he says of the mechanical aspect of man. This will not seem strange to those who know how many different automata or moving machines can be made by the industry of man is Descartes looking into a future of mechanical men when we will not be able to tell apart from human beings as he says we could not tell mechanical animals from
real ones. What Descartes thinks of the film Star Wars with his very human like. But like tentacle men R2-D2 and see Threepio prove his point is the final significance of Descartes philosophy that had paves the way for a mechanistic world in which scientific technology turned all of us into automatons. They court's view that the bodies of both animals and humans are only mechanical clockworks explained by the science of physics gained momentum. They will appear in the 20th century the claimed that all explanation can be provided by the science of physics alone. The explanation of everything in organic organic and human. But was this not the vision which came to Descartes on the night of November 10th sixteen hundred nineteen. The vision of a marvelous unity of all science but Descartes philosophy contains more than a mechanical clockwork
physical universe whose laws are laws of motion. There is also in his universe a perfect being God who provided the original motion of the clockwork and there are also finite imperfect beings like us thinking beings. Reality includes the self God and matter. All are substances since everything as we have seen is for de Kock either a substance or an attribute. But what is a substance. They can't define substance as a thing which so exists that it needs and no other thing. In order to exist only God can be substance. In this strict sense requiring no other being in order to exist. All other substances require God in order to exist both physical and thinking substances are created by God. They represent completely different kinds of substances. Mind or thinking substance
occupies no space is not in motion. It is not part of any clockwork. It has the capacity however for reasoning remembering. Denying it has free will and is morally responsible for its act. It's a matter of by contrast is spatially extended in mechanical motion infinitely divisible totally determined by the impact of other bodies. It is without free will. Matter is without any purpose without any moral qualities. Each kind of substance is independent of the other. For each kind of substance matter and mind there is a distinct and appropriate discipline which studies it. Matter is studied by physics. The New Science of Copernicus and Galileo. Mind is studied by church theology and by philosophy. As Dick cut of reality in giving the little hop to the church and the physical hall to science as a strategy on behalf of science to pacify the church and allay its
suspicions that the new science is going to undermine all the teachings of the church. Or is there a chorus claiming that there are two kinds of reality physical and mental. Is this calling a true description of what reality is or was it a strategy. Also a true. Center for Public Broadcasting.
From Socrates To Sartre
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Decartes Clockwork Universe
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Maryland Public Television
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Descartes IV: Proof of the Existence of Physical Objects - From the proof of the existence of God to the Proof of the Existence of physical things as the causes of our sensations. Attributes of physical substance. The piece of wax: extension is its only clear and distinct attribute. Mechanism. The clockwork universe.
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"From Socrates to Sartre is an educational show hosted by Dr. Thelma Z. Lavine, who teaches viewers about the theories and history of philosophy."
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Copyright Holder: MPT
Host: Thelma Z. Lavine, Ph.D.
Producing Organization: Maryland Public Television
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Maryland Public Television
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Chicago: “From Socrates To Sartre; #10; Decartes Clockwork Universe,” 1978-08-10, Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 4, 2023,
MLA: “From Socrates To Sartre; #10; Decartes Clockwork Universe.” 1978-08-10. Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <>.
APA: From Socrates To Sartre; #10; Decartes Clockwork Universe. Boston, MA: Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from